Welcome to First Things First! This series will help you prepare for a range of life changes. Think of each installment as an instruction guide that will either give you time to locate a safe landing spot or help you hit the ground running. Each article will contain a handy checklist you can reference so you can remain calm, cool, and in control of whatever life hands you.
Your First Worldwide Trip
The good thing about adulting is that once in while, you can take time off from work to see the rest of the world. Betwee all the travel magazine, websites, and TV shows, there’s LOTS of advice about what to see and do!
The bad thing about adulting when you decide to go on your first worldwide trip is the amount of advance paperwork you have to do – and passports, visas, and vaccinations are just the beginning.
So, we want to focus on helping you prepare for the finer details of this big trip. There are plenty of resources available to help you plan for what to do once you reach your destination (and this information is totally dependent upon the location of your trip). Instead, we want to help you get where you’re going to help save you time, money, and aggravation.
Get Your Passport
A passport identifies you as a citizen of a particular country which allows you to re-enter your country and return home after you’ve been away. Getting your passport is technically easy, but you must be prepared for the process to take a lot of time.
Fill out an application! If this is your first time applying for a passport, you must do so in person at a United States Post Office branch.
- A Social Security number;
- Proof of US Citizenship (For native-born citizens, that means a certified birth certificate); and
- Proof of identity such as a valid state-issued ID.
Get your passport photo right! Improper passport photos hold up the application process. In 2015, the United States State Department rejected more than 200,000 unacceptable passport photos. Some passport photo rules include:
- As November 1, 2016, you cannot wear glasses. These add glare from the camera flash and makes it harder for your face to be correctly identified by authorities.
- Even exposure. Under-exposed and over-exposed photos distort skin tone as well as eye and hair color.
- Photo must be taken within the last 6 months.
- Photos should show only shoulders, neck, and head. Full face must be visible, facing the camera, with a neutral facial expression.
- Background must be plain white or off-white.
- The photo should be hi-resolution, measuring 2”x 2”, and printed on matte or glossy photo quality paper. No selfies.
You can upload your own digital photo for the passport application. Check out the State Department’s passport photo page for more help and info.
How long does it take? Regular turn around time is 6 weeks. There is an expedited service that can get it to you in 3 weeks, but it costs an additional $60. You can get it in 8 business days, but it will require making an appointment at a passport agency and the reason must be compelling.
How much does this cost? A first-time adult passport card and book costs $135. Your passport will be good for ten years, and then it must be renewed.
Pay Attention to Travel Warnings and Alerts
The US Department of State issues travel warnings to help US citizens avoid trouble or potentially dangerous situations in foreign countries. Such warnings include civil wars and/or conflict, areas facing threats of terrorism, intense crime (especially kidnapping), risk of arrest and long-term detention, or natural disasters. Travel alerts are also issued when there are potential short-term interruptions to travel, such as strikes, demonstrations, elections, or health alerts.
Sign Up with STEP
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service to allow U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their worldwide trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. This way, in an emergency, the embassy can provide you with important safety and security information, or support in the event of a crisis.
If you are traveling with family or friends, one person can enroll the trip and then list others in their group as “accompanying travelers.” Plus, once you’ve enrolled, you can revise your information each time you travel overseas.
Get Your Visa
Just because you show up to visit a country doesn’t mean it has to let you in. Countries don’t always have the same laws, so there are many possible regulations and restrictions that could impact your travel.
Find out if you need a tourist visa to enter the countries on your route, and check for any laws or entry restrictions. All too often, and sometimes through no fault of their own, travelers get stuck in airports in foreign countries just because they do not have a valid visa.
For example, U.S. citizens may enter Italy (or any other of the 26 Schengen countries) for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa. In the case of China, you must obtain a visa prior to arrival, the visa must be valid for both entering and leaving the country, and your passport must be have at least six months’ validity remaining.
Visas also have processing costs. For example, Australia requires all foreigner visitors to apply for a visa, but different types of visas carry different prices, varying from AUD20 to AUD340.
Get Your Vaccinations
Many countries you visit will certainly have modern conveniences, but they may have ongoing public health problems or endemic diseases that necessitate advance vaccinations. Common infectious diseases found outside the US include meningitis, tuberculosis, and Hepatitis B. Check the Center for Disease Control’s Travelers’ Health page for endemic health problems as well as alerts on Chikungunya, Zika, and MERS. Get your vaccinations at least three months in advance of your trip.
Prepare Your Medications
While you may not need to worry about glasses or contact lenses, it’s safe to say that some countries require documentation for all your regular prescriptions, as well as any kit using sutures or syringes (like insulin). You will want to carry a letter from your doctor on letterhead stationery detailing your prescription and medication information. Remember to keep medicines in your airplane carry-on luggage and store them in their original prescription bottles.
Take Extra Precautions
It never fails, but stuff happens, so these tips can help you prepare for nearly every possible contingency on your worldwide trip:
- Carry Extra Cash. Keep an ample stash of cash separate from your wallet and credits cards. Keep it secret, keep it safe.
- Photocopy your travel documentation and ID. In the event your travel papers are lost or stolen, these copies provide temporary documentation of who you are. Again – keep it secret, keep it safe.
- Get Travel Insurance. This covers your investment in your travel arrangements, such as cancelled flights, lost luggage, and usually the costs from injuries or illness that could prematurely end your trip.
- Make a Advance Health Plan. Accidents happen while traveling. Legal problems can crop up at home. In both situations, you need to designate someone to make decisions in your stead. Set up powers of attorney with a trusted person before you leave. Get one for your health while your travel (ideally a travel partner) and one for someone back home to cover legal matters. Get these documented and keeping a copy with you.
- Notify Your Financial Institutions. Because financial and credit card fraud is worldwide, you’ll want to notify your bank and credit card company that you will be traveling (all of them). That way, they’ll know that it is likely you making purchases for goods and services all along your route and allow transactions to go through more smoothly.
We hope these tips help you enjoy all the fun and excitement of your first worldwide trip!